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The Tracks of Motown’s Greatest Record

There are certain melodies and tunes that once you hear, it’s impossible to forget, and that is just the case when you hear “The Tracks Of My Tears” by the Miracles, otherwise known as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in the UK.

Calling this song the greatest Motown record of all time would not far fetched as established publishers such as The Rolling Stones ranked as such in 2021. Outside of publications, looking at the charts of the time even showcased the song as one of Motown’s most potent exports, coming in the top 10 for countries like Canada, the UK, and the United States. The song is recognised as having “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significance” to the National Recording Registry, even earning an “Award of Merit,” from The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. But what makes this song so unique?

Well, consider the beginning of the song. It starts with a quiet solo played by Marv Taplin that inspires this feeling of a lonesome man that sets up the entirety of the pop ballad. Following the opening riff comes the voice of Smokey Robinson, whose sweet soothing voice fills in the role of a lonesome lover recovering from heartbreak but not fully accepting it perfectly.

People say I'm the life of the party,
'Cause I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty,
Deep inside, I'm blue

When looking at this first stanza within the theme of the song of fresh heartbreak, you can understand that the role of the sad clown, which has been prominent in other Smokey Robinson songs, comes in. This theme of the tragic clown can be heard in “Tears of a Clown,” and “My Smile is Just a Frown,” once again speaking to the falsity of what the emotion that we show can genuinely hide from our feelings within, a feeling which most who go through such heartbreaks can relate to this feeling.

So take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears

No matter how much it rotted, a potent love still contains magic that has you tethered to that person. That feeling of committed loss and heartbreak in a moment where you feel the most vulnerable, especially with a person with whom you’ve been so vulnerable, contains this perception that is easy to detect when you know the clues to look for.

I need you (need you)
Need you (need you)

These two lines at the end of the chorus contain the spirit of a hopeless romantic in search of wanting more within himself but requiring that person to be with them. Emotions that are targeted like these allow us, the listener, to relate to the tune and truly immerse ourselves in the role of the sad clown.

Since you left me, if you see me with another girl
Seeming like I'm having fun
Although she may be cute, she's just a substitute
Because you're the permanent one

The feeling of a man so in love with someone with no desire to reciprocate that love in these lines helps carry that initial feeling of love we all aim to achieve. To have someone that we can see as special in our eyes, to hold and cherish, to honestly treat them as the soul mate that we all are in search of, to find that the same love is not sent back to you is a crushing feeling and that to the tune of Smokeys sultry voice really helps embellish the sense of despair through showcasing your hurt through love.

Hey, yeah
(Outside) I'm masquerading
(Inside) My hope is fading
(Just a clown) Ooh yeah, since you put me down
My smile is my make up I wear since my break up with you

A faltering love, or one that you know you will never receive again, is a pain that is so hurtful to oneself that it is almost as though you are depriving one of air. The theme of the sad clown comes back in again, except this time, coming in more literally with a mention of it in the lyrics.

The themes of a lonesome lover reminiscing on an old lover played by the smooth voice of Smokey Robinson, backed by the vocal talents of some of Motown’s most extraordinary vocal talents in The Miracles backed by the Funk Brothers, another one of Motown’s premier backing groups, played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to top off a track that is as musically inclined to make you want to dance as much as it will hit you deep within your soul.

With the breakdown of the lyrics and the quality of its topic, that is relatable to almost every breathing person, both those who have dated and have not but can still relate to the themes of a broken man desperately in love with his ex-lover or a woman that he can never strive to communicate his feelings to, it allowed this sense of widespread understanding that the love of one comes in through all no matter what language you speak.

This is why “Tracks of My Tears” is considered Motown’s most remarkable record. You can not beat the combination of the musical talent on display alongside the feeling of a lonesome lover so deep within his own grief that you can not help but look in the mirror and see yourself as the sad clown.

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